AUPE members hold UCP accountable for fairer WCB
The Alberta Workers Compensation legislation is up for its three-year review, and AUPE members are holding the UCP accountable for making much-needed improvements to the system.
On Monday, Aug. 10, AUPE’s research team submitted a brief to the Government of Alberta with a number of recommendations to help improve WCB for workers. AUPE is concerned the WCB has strayed from its originating purpose – to protect working people – and our union’s recommendations will bring it back in line with that early commitment.
In 1913 employers and employees came to an historic agreement. Workers waived the right to sue employers for workplace injuries and illness in exchange for a fund that would guarantee financial protection to injured workers and their families while they heal. That fund would become the modern-day WCB.
The Meredith Principles, on which the program was originally founded, stipulate all employers are responsible for paying into the common fund while the Board, independent of any government or employer, makes all final decisions about claims. As we said in our brief, these Principles shift the focus from blame and liability to the wellness of working people.
We’ve made it clear in our submission that the legislation and Board policies must be guided by the Meredith Principles because that’s the only way the WCB can truly prioritize worker safety and wellbeing.
With that in mind, we recommended the Government:
- End its cost-saving gimmicks for employers. The WCB needs to reprioritize supports for workers, who fund WCB premiums through their salaries.
- Gimmicks include employer rebates, which the WCB currently funnels to bosses when the board runs a surplus. This money should be put back into the program itself, funding worker safety, compensation and return-to-work programs.
- Extend the presumptive coverage for PTSD to all the frontline and public-sector workers, Government Services staff included, who have continued to support their neighbours throughout the pandemic.
- Make Cost of Living Adjustments equal to or higher than Alberta’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), so hurt workers don’t fall victim to a volatile market and have to return to work early to support their families.
- Improve job security for workers who have to take time off as a result of a workplace injury or illness. Employees should have a year’s worth of job security (up from the current six months), during which time the boss must take them back once they are fit to return.
- Thoroughly review Occupational Diseases in the regulation every two years.
- Amend the Workers Compensation Act to reflect any wage increases that are negotiated for Collective Agreements and come into effect when a worker is on Temporary Total Disability (TTD). This would ensure workers have more support.
- And more, including adopting legislative updates and changes to governance and process.
The WCB and two-tiered healthcare
The UCP’s Bill 30 will open the door for more private health-care providers to profit off people’s pain. In our submission, AUPE recommended that the Workers Compensation Act be amended to prohibit the WCB from using private healthcare providers – only publicly funded, publicly delivered health services.
All Albertans—not just the wealthy—deserve”equal access to quality care. As an organization dedicated to helping workers regardless of their income, the WCB should not be used as a venue to expand profit-before-people providers and contribute to the erosion of the public system.
2018 and beyond
On top of our recommendations for 2020, AUPE is also pushing the government to maintain a number of mandates it introduced in 2018 as per the previous panel’s recommendations. Some notable provisions include:
- Maintain the lump-sum survivor benefit for spouse and adult interdependents of workers who have died on the job
- Financial padding for younger workers who are severely injured early in their work life.
- The responsibility of their employer to continue covering their portion of an injured employee’s health benefits while the employee is recovering.
- Extensions to the appeal window
- Workers’ rights to select their own healthcare provider
- Removal of the insurable earnings cap
Some may say that the 2018 changes created financial challenges for the WCB, but in 2019 the WCB was 119.2% funded. While we support all of these improvements that were introduced into the WCB system in 2018, in a post-pandemic world, workers are going to need more support than ever. The WCB can always do more for Albertans.
Today, we face one of the most anti-worker governments we’ve ever seen. Members have to take advantage of all avenues available to them to counter the UCP agenda; improving the WCB so it works for working people is one avenue. Read the full submission.